He's Still Here
jquinton at CS1.PRESBY.EDU
Mon Apr 8 13:51:27 MDT 1996
by Maureen Dowd
WASHINGTON (Apr 6, 1996 4:24 p.m. EST) -- Strom Thurmond's top aide
just bought a motorcycle.
Thurmond had one question: Was there an extra helmet?
The image may be more "Weekend at Bernie's" than Marlon Brando in "The
Wild One." But you've got to hand it to the oldest senator in American
He's been through Herbert and J. Edgar Hoover, and he's still here, as
the Sondheim song goes. He's been through Calvin, Coolidge to Klein,
segregation, yellow dog, blue dog, no dog and Tang-colored hair, and
my dear, he's still here.
The 93-year-old helped save Bob Dole from a shame spiral in the
primaries. The muscular South Carolina organization set up by the wily
Thurmond protege, the late Lee Atwater, brought down Pat Buchanan, who
grumped that Bob Dole "was basically hauled up to the finish line and
tossed over by Strom Thurmond, Governor Beasley and Governor
Asked about Buchanan, Thurmond replied: "Why should I express myself
on somethin' that's a non-entity?"
Now Thurmond is helping Dole again, serving as a foil on the age
issue. Thirty-four percent of Americans see Dole's age -- he will be
73 by the election -- as an obstacle, according to a new New York
Times/CBS News poll. Comedians and critics see it as an opportunity.
"Oscar is 68, younger than Bob Dole," said Whoopi Goldberg at the
Comedian Bill Maher said Dole is so old, "when he won California, he
declared it for Spain."
Sidney Blumental, the New Yorker political writer, has teamed up with
his wife, Jackie, to produce bumper stickers that read: "Dole is 96."
Dole fights back by evoking the name of a Senator who makes him "feel
like a child." He vows to "put Strom Thurmond on the ticket for age
balance," and says he follows the older man's example at Capitol Hill
receptions. "If he takes a shrimp, I take a shrimp. If he takes a
banana, I take a banana."
In a sunny Senate office papered with pictures from F.D.R. to H.R.C.,
Thurmond says he doesn't mind being ribbed. "Well, at least they know
I exist, don't they?" he grins. "Anything that'd help Dole, I'm for
it. Cause if I'm in good shape at my age, that indicates he could be
in good shape at his age."
Comics have pounced on the Bob-and-Strom pairing.
"When Bob Dole stands next to Strom Thurmond," Jay Leno said, "he
looks like the new lifeguard on Baywatch."
David Letterman's Top Ten ways Bob Dole celebrated victory in the
primary included: "Went cruising for chicks with Strom Thurmond."
Dana Carvey's show featured a skit in which Bob Dole announces his
choice for a running mate "to bring us into the next millennium" --
But the two men, Dole with a big hearing aid and Thurmond with an ear
horn, soon get into a tiff.
Dole: The people of the 48 states --
Thurmond: Forty-eight? You bettah check yo figgahs, boy! They's only
37 states in this here union.
Dole: Bob Dole knows the flavor of soup!
Thurmond: Shut yo mouth, boy! You and yo loud Glenn Miller music!
At the Gridiron Dinner last weekend, Trent Lott said Thurmond first
ran for office pledging a "Contract With the Colonies." Filling out a
Senate organ donor card, Lott said, "Strom listed a couple of parts
they don't even make any more."
Thurmond says he does not give Dole advice on handling the age issue,
because he does not think it's an issue. His 70s, after all, were
salad days. "My last baby was born when I was about 67," he says.
"That's pretty good genes, isn't it?"
Editorials suggesting that he step down have been as effective, as
they say in Charleston, as a peashooter on the castle walls.
After 42 years, he is running again, hoping to celebrate his 100th
birthday in Congress. His ambidextrous campaign will stress the
benefits of seniority ("It would take a new man 20, 25 years to get
the seniority I have now") and the benefits of term limits ("It won't
hurt to bring in new blood. But I'm already here. And I intend to
leave anyway after six more years").
"It's not the age that counts," he says, offering his famous killer
grip in parting. "It's your performance that counts."
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